Intelligent Workload Optimization and Cost Governance for Modern Data Clouds with Bluesky

Hot off a September 14, 2022 launch, Bluesky is helping Snowflake customers save time and money with an innovative approach to workload optimization.

The company: Bluesky

Bluesky provides data-driven enterprises with a workload optimization and data governance solution to better assess and get visibility into the cost implications of workload changes, then recommends ways to optimize performance more cost-effectively. The company is currently deploying their flagship product on Snowflake workloads. With Bluesky Data engineers spend less time manually monitoring and evaluating workloads and can focus on creating data-driven business value, faster. FinOps teams get peace of mind from knowing that data teams are following cloud financial best practices and optimizing workload performance to maximize their data cloud investment. 

Bluesky’s origin

Founders Mingsheng Hong and Zheng Shao have been friends for 18 years. At a wedding in early 2022 (the groom became an angel investor) they discovered they were ready to step out of their comfortable “corporate” jobs and do something entrepreneurial with their mutual interest in big data, SQL query optimization, machine learning and the need to help companies get a handle on usage-based pricing in modern data cloud environments (yes, it’s nerdy). The two identified an emerging market for a data cloud workload-based optimization solution that would be applicable to any organization needing to maximize their investment in platforms such as Snowflake and other modern data clouds. Given their experience solving similar optimization challenges at web-scale companies like Facebook, Google and Uber they knew they could build something valuable for the enterprise market. They quickly got to work raising a seed round and building a world class engineering team. A mere 6 months later, they are ready to come out of stealth mode and bring Bluesky to life. 

Why you should pay attention

Across industries, organizations are adopting modern data clouds to innovate and accelerate digital transformation. In today’s economic environment, every organization is looking for ways to keep data cloud costs under control while freeing up valuable data engineering resources to drive business value. The same traits that make cloud data easy to use and drive innovation also make it hard to manage from a financial perspective. Bluesky seeks to address this challenge by giving enterprises ongoing visibility into the cost implications of workload changes and automatically recommending ways to optimize performance more cost-effectively. In turn, Snowflake customers can concentrate on understanding and deriving value from their data rather than spending time refining, managing and optimizing the environment. 

Their innovation to workload optimization stems from a unique algorithmic approach. In contrast to established cost visibility and optimization products like CloudHealth by VMWare for public clouds, Bluesky focuses on SQL query workloads and performs “whitebox analysis” to provide in-depth optimization suggestions. For example, when Bluesky finds queries that repeatedly read the last 2 years data on an hourly basis, it flags them and then provides automated rewrite suggestions. In contrast, the EC2 type of jobs being monitored by other cost visibility and optimization tools are “black boxes” where the internal logic is not known to the tools. As such, the optimization suggestions that can be made tend to be more limited. 

Bluesky has already helped over a dozen companies reduce their Snowflake spend by 20% as well as increase query efficiency by up to 500x – massive financial and operational improvements. Bluesky complements Snowflake’s built-in capabilities such as their query optimizer with a unique workload optimization approach that goes beyond a single SQL query to cover a set of queries across data ingestion, transformation and analytics. By intelligently watching for similar query patterns, Bluesky can detect complex situations that simplistic visibility tools miss. Bluesky can suggest high-impact tuning options for valuable workloads, increasing efficiency while also looking out for clear savings hiding inside the noise of regular operations, such as long-running queries that fail repeatedly without providing any value. 

How Bluesky works

Bluesky’s SaaS solution is designed from the ground up to make querying and analytics faster and cheaper over modern data clouds, in turn, delivering exceptional operational and financial value. Bluesky provides ongoing visibility into workloads to better understand data warehouse usage, daily credit utilization, queued jobs and more. Bluesky uses profile-driven Query Cost Attribution and pattern-based Query Clustering to understand the implications of how customers are using data and identify ways to optimize performance more cost-effectively. In turn, customers can immediately take action on any Bluesky-generated recommendation to drive measurable business impact.

Bluesky analyzes query patterns to detect similar groupings, using an innovative technology it calls query patterns. By intelligently watching for similar query patterns, Bluesky can detect complex situations that simplistic visibility tools miss. Bluesky can suggest high-impact tuning options for valuable workloads, increasing efficiency while also looking out for clear savings hiding inside the noise of regular operations, such as long-running queries that fail repeatedly without providing any value.

Benefits

Bluesky’s dynamic optimization engine delivers intelligent insights that help you optimize workload performance, improve governance and run data cloud infrastructure on a more cost-effective basis. Bluesky goes beyond simple infrastructure cost measurement and looks at patterns in how customers use data across their entire data cloud to continuously find opportunities for improvement. 

Bluesky’s intelligent monitoring and actionable insights help Snowflake customers continuously optimize critical data workloads that support their business and enable agile, high-speed analytics at any scale. Instead of having unproductive, rearview-mirror conversations that end in countless delays, Bluesky delivers an intelligent workload optimization solution that lets data engineers take active ownership of their data cloud costs and performance and collaborate more effectively with finance teams and budget owners. 

Next 

If you are a data-driven enterprise concerned about the increasing costs and complexity associated with modern data clouds, Bluesky can help. For Snowflake users with an annual spend of $50,000+, they offer a Free “cost efficiency check” and best practices. Join Coinbase and other companies who are leveraging Bluesky  to achieve up to 20% cost savings on their Snowflake workloads as well as 500x better query performance.

Join the team! If you want to be part of it all, they’re hiring. Reach out to learn about open positions.

Operator Spotlight: Webflow COO Linda Tong

“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them – operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next. 

This month, we spoke with Linda Tong, newly appointed COO of no-code website platform Webflow and Board Member at Prezi. Linda’s focus on innovative execution and design-led leadership has driven incredible growth and empowered companies across industries and sectors. She was previously General Manager at AppDynamics (acquired by Cisco), VP of Product and Innovation for the National Football League, COO of Nextbit Systems, Chief Product Officer at Tapjoy, and a Product Marketing Manager at Google where she helped launch Google Chrome and Android. 

Tell us a bit about your journey from building the product to running the business, and how your functional expertise enables you as a leader?

LINDA: I have always found joy in creating products that people love, and it made product management a natural path for me. The practice, to me, has always been about understanding what value we want to deliver, for whom, and how to balance making decisions across a varied set of constraints (resources, time, quality, scope). There’s no perfect answer, but the problem solving involved in arriving at a decision  is what makes me enjoy product so much –  I love finding ways to align teams to execute on a vision to deliver value to an end user. Working on products that I am personally passionate about has just been the icing on the cake. As my career evolved, however, I found myself moving further away from actually building product to leading teams of people who built product, and then ultimately teams of people running a business. The experience as a product person still remains however – whether I’m building a product or running a business, it comes down to bringing teams together to execute on a vision while balancing multiple constraints. The only difference for me now is that instead of my product being a set of features or a body of code, my product is the business. 

You’ve crossed the divide between hot startups and legacy enterprises a few times, what are some of the skills required to make those leaps successfully? What’s one key thing that each can learn from the other? 

LINDA: I won’t lie, making those leaps has been deeply uncomfortable and probably not a recommended path by any means unless you like ambiguity as much as I do. To switch modes like that and be successful requires patience, willingness to live in uncertainty, and an ability to learn quickly. Each time I jumped, I found myself feeling deeply inadequate and realizing that I needed to learn completely new domains, systems, tools, practices, and more. My advantage in these situations has been my ability to stay curious and learn from my experiences. When you have as many varied experiences as I do, you ultimately develop this library on the many ways to solve problems. As I approach problems in any role, I marry the context of the role with any relevant historical experience and that usually allows me to provide a unique perspective in every room I’m in. What I have found being in both startups and large enterprises is that when you bring in diverse perspectives (whether it’s diversity of race, geo, socio-economic background, age, experiences, or more) the sorts of results you can get are always better than when you lack diversity in the room. We often discount background experience as a source of thought diversity, but to me, it’s been one of my key advantages. 

How has the COO role changed since you first assumed the position about a decade ago? 

LINDA: The COO role, to me, has never really been that clear. There has been plenty of literature on the many ‘kinds’ of COO’s out there, and today the role is still incredibly (if not more) ambiguous. When I first stepped into the role many years ago, there was probably more alignment with the ‘executor’ role, one in which a COO led most G&A operations, and drove a focus on execution oriented operations for a business. Today, I feel lines are more blurry and see significantly more variance in COO’s and the roles they play. More, now than ever, I see different COO’s with varied backgrounds whose roles are simply defined by the business’s needs. 

What’s the best advice you’ve received about how to manage people?  

LINDA: The best advice I was ever given about management was to never have my standard approach to management, but rather, to manage the individual. Every person is different and great managers don’t expect each person to work well within some standard system. Instead, great managers learn the individual and figure out how best to meet the individual where they are. If the ultimate goal is to help an individual meet their potential, what better way to unlock it by understanding them deeply. 

You recently joined the board of video presentation collaboration software company Prezi. What do you wish someone had told you before taking your first board position?

LINDA: Similar to my experience of diving into wildly different companies, jumping into wildly different roles comes with a whole new learning curve. For board roles, the knowledge on how to be a great board member is not as common, so you really have to hunt for it. I wish I had spent more time talking to folks about their board experiences, how they prepare, what relevant job experience helps them, and how they individually add value as a board member. With a board role, you have less regular time with the board and management team you’re working with, so fewer cycles to ramp and learn – which makes the ability to ramp quickly all the more important. 

How have you made a mark in your industry? What’s something you’ve done that’s perhaps counterintuitive in your field – broken any rules with interesting results? 

LINDA: When I think of my ‘field’ I still think of myself personally as a product person (who’s current product is a business). One of the things that I think makes me different  as a product person and as a leader is my propensity to make big bets and drive focus. I truly believe less is more and as a product person and leader, I have driven programs across my past few companies to simplify through cutting vs. adding. When most people ask about new features, new programs, new products, new anything, I mostly ask about less. What can we cut, where do we simplify, how do we do less. From cutting a large percent of the features in the NFL app when I was running product there, to generating a program (project assassin) at my last company to cut features, processes, and more, to now focusing the team I’m leading, I would love to say the mark I’m leaving is one of simplification and focus. Instead of coming up with new things to do, I’m simply removing the noise and focusing our teams. 

Describe one pivotal moment in your career that was truly defining for you in one way or another – an opportunity that changed your life or a moment where you recognized defeat and changed course.

LINDA: Early on in my career, I found myself and the product I was leading at the verge of being decimated. We had built a product that fully relied on the support of an ecosystem we were built on and that ecosystem could simply turn us off if they so decided. The fateful day came where we were given notice that we would be cut off from this ecosystem and faced a pretty terrifying reality that our business could disappear quickly. Our backs were up against the wall, and I remember seeing resumes printed out in our shared company printer that week. We all faced this moment of fight or flight and in that moment, I sat down with a small team to problem solve and find alternative paths for our business. Within a few weeks we had identified a path forward and built a prototype. We ultimately pivoted our product line to  ensure the sustainability of our business going forward and it worked. What mattered most for me in that moment was knowing how I would act whenever my back was up against the wall and that has given me strength throughout my career whenever faced with hard situations. 

 

Operator Spotlight: Microsoft VP of Customer Success, Azure Data & AI Rashida Hodge

“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them – operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next. 

This month, we spoke with Rashida Hodge, Vice President of Customer Success, Azure Data & AI at Microsoft. Rashida is a technologist and executive leader at the forefront of AI and emerging technologies that are changing how businesses operate. Currently she leads the Data and AI Customer Success Worldwide Commercial Business at Microsoft, accelerating data-driven digital transformation for customers through a differentiated and connected customer experience.

A former Fortune 40 Under 40 recipient, she leads technology innovation strategy, develops diverse teams, and orchestrates global technology transformations. 

You’ve held big roles at big companies. Where have you made an impact in your field? Have you broken any rules that led to interesting results? 

RASHIDA: AI is a technology that has been around for a long time. But, over the last several years, it has become more consumable, scalable and accessible. 

Very few people were paying serious attention to AI when we launched the IBM Watson business unit. Now, it’s top of mind across board rooms, typically included  in every client discussion on emerging technologies, and it brings forth a discussion of curiosity at family dinner tables.  Over the last 10 years, a much richer and broader understanding of the technology has surfaced and we have a better understanding of how AI can and should be applied.  Honestly, living in the heart of this transformational shift has been incredible. 

Today, we have robust platforms, repeatable patterns of success, and industry differentiation. To know that my early experiences and engagements – both successes and learnings –  informed the industry and shaped the use of technology across companies and platforms is extremely humbling. 

What’s something people often get wrong about customer success? 

RASHIDA:  Many  enterprises underestimate the  value that customer success brings to the core strategy, growth, and sustainability of the enterprise.  Customer success is the heart of understanding the why, builds the fidelity to determine the what, and delivers the how in execution.  As we continue to mature and grow in the world of cloud, customer success will more and more be seen as a required function.

Not everyone gets dubbed the “Superhero of IBM Watson AI”! Share how your interest and expertise in AI came to be.

RASHIDA: Honestly, I wish I had a cool, sexy story to tell you about how I planned this out entirely but life is a mixture of hard work, perseverance, grit, timing, and a dash of luck.  And I ended up in the AI space based on a combination of all those factors.  When IBM decided to commercialize Watson into its own business unit, I had the opportunity to work closely with the senior vice president, Mike Rhodin, who was tasked with gathering a core set of leaders to create this business unit from the ground-up.  I was fortunate enough to build out the technical delivery team to deliver our early engagements.  Through this experience, I had a front row seat to the roller coaster ride of bringing a product to market, aligning customer expectations to the journey, and bringing the value of this technology to life for our clients globally.  And frankly, one of my clients gave me that nickname because of how intimately I advocated for them through this journey. I will always treasure this designation because it represents what I love about serving my clients – helping them achieve success, value, and meaningful impact for their business. 

A move to a new company after 19 years is a big shift. What was a key learning you uncovered during that transition? 

RASHIDA: I am just thrilled to be at Microsoft.  To have the opportunity to work for a company where we are focused on empowering every person and every organization to achieve more is remarkable and aligns with my passion for doing meaningful work and enabling customer success.   The key learning for me during the transition is that we are lifelong learners; and regardless of our experience and previous performance, there is always more to learn. During this transition, I realized that pivoting not on what you have done in the past, but instead indexing on the pace at which you can learn, the comfort in being uncomfortable and being open to feedback are the real winners in being successful. 

What are some of the influences that led you to your views on how culture and diversity are the keys to commercial success? 

RASHIDA: Now you have hit a nerve, and a passion for me indeed.  

As a black woman in tech, I understand the reality of what happens when we neglect to do the work of having inclusive and diverse environments. For a large majority of my career, I operated under the “tax”; and partially still do.  

I’m black, a woman, and some say I look “youthful”. We have to remove the unspoken taxes that put undue pressure and burden on a particular identity, because we need the room to be colorful, varied and full of richness. 

For me, commercial success starts with talent – diverse talent from all angles, lenses and perspectives. It is important for us to pay attention to how and who we recruit, because technology mirrors our society. And when we do, we must focus on retention. Diversity equals seeking out the talent and providing the right atmosphere to retain the talent. I describe this often as inviting a bunch of cool, interesting people to a party only to have a lame party. The food is bland; the music is a snooze; and zero effort was put into these phenomenal people having a great experience. So, yes, who is going to want to stay at that party? Surely not me, or anyone who wants to have a good time. We need to do the work to find the talent and then ensure we have a fabulous party! 

If we have learned anything over the years, it is that technology is not just a business imperative but a humane imperative.  So, as we architect, build, and implement technology solutions, we need to ensure diverse talent is in the mix and technologies are relevant and applicable to broad, varied groups of people.  

What’s something you’ve done successfully, personally or professionally, to empower the next generation of underrepresented leaders? What’s one thing you want to take on next?

RASHIDA:  A few years back, I heard a message that challenged me to think about the difference between significance and success. It pushed me to think deeply on “my why”. Why do I show up day after day and work hard with grit and passion? After much thought, I walked away with the reflection that success is about choice and decisions for our own personal benefit; while significance is about choosing a life and decisions that benefit others. In the early stages of my career, there was a burning passion to make my successes meaningful.  But over time, I learned that we have a role to play in contributing to and supporting the environments that shaped us.  

As a child of teenage parents who totally relied on scholarships to afford college, I took the bold step in 2012 of starting an endowment at North Carolina State University to provide need-based aid to women and people of color studying in Industrial Engineering. This was not financially easy, but I believe it was a necessary sacrifice. I wanted to offer to others what was offered to me – the opportunity of an education. 

It would have been much easier for me to make this level of a contribution once I had made much more money, reached some greater pinnacle of success, or donated as part of a trust once I passed. But it was important for me to establish significance now;  because we cannot wait for the perfect moment to act, and establishing significance requires real sacrifice.  My goal and desire is to continue to live a life of significance by enabling advancement and opportunity for others.  

What’s your secret super power? 

RASHIDA: My ability to build from my circumstances, which was learned and adopted from my dear mother. My mother gave birth to me as a teenager, and endured not only her own shock, but the shock of many others in our family and community. Through the crushing pressure of disappointments, family whispers, and her newfound love for me, my mother made the decision to be relentlessly resilient in spite of her circumstances.   She refused to allow her circumstances as a teen mom to stop her from getting her education and rising through the ranks of our local hospital and becoming the VP of Engineering Operations. Through her experience, she equipped me with my super power of building from your circumstances.  My mom’s teenage mind bore out a resolve that imprinted on me a tenacity and vigor for life; and I firmly believe it is up to us to take the resources present and finesse them into our own personal greatness. 

 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are the keys to building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Meet Faros AI: the EngOps company connecting the dots for engineering leaders

New to the scene but hot out of the gate, learn all about OpCo portfolio company Faros AI.

The company: Faros AI

Faros AI is an operational data platform that brings all engineering data into one place to give engineering leaders a single-pane view of their entire software development lifecycle. It takes the guesswork out of planning so that a team can make decisions, allocate resources and improve productivity based on actual data. EngOps is officially here.

Faros AI’s origin

Co-founders Vitaly Gordon, Shubha Nabar, and Matthew Tovbin are machine learning pioneers. They met while building Einstein, Salesforce’s machine learning platform. While enduring struggles of a rapidly growing engineering org, they realized that their counterparts in Sales, Marketing and Finance were incredibly data-informed about their operations. They were modeling and measuring the impact of changes, and moving efficiently. Meanwhile, the engineering side of the office was flying blind. Seemingly simple questions about engineering velocity, security, compliance, or cost required an extreme amount of effort to solve. Relevant data would take weeks to compile, and by the time analyses were complete, the data would be unusable. The team learned they weren’t alone, either: when they spoke to engineering teams in other organizations, it was the same story. Thus, Faros was born.

Why you should pay attention

Faros is making big moves. This March, Faros AI raised $16M in seed funding and has partnered with leading companies like Box, Coursera, GoFundMe, and many more to help their engineering teams move faster. The team has also developed an open source version of the product called Faros CE (Community Edition), which they launched on Product Hunt and is available to install from their website for free.

The details

Based in Sunnyvale, CA, Faros AI is on a mission to help engineering leaders gain unprecedented visibility and insight into their operations with data that is automatically extracted and synthesized from all relevant sources. As a result, teams can ship quality software quickly, efficiently, and reliably. 

How it works

Faros does what no other program has done before and connects engineering systems like Jira, Jenkins and GitHub, including an intelligence layer to make logical connections across the data that they could deliver to customers in a dashboard. The program can trace a project across systems, allowing for much quicker access to data. The team has built over 50 connectors to connect typical engineering tools, but also allows for the tech to be open source so engineering teams can connect to any system, regardless of whether Faros supports it natively or not.

Why we’re obsessed

Faros AI is the first truly holistic view into customers’ engineering operations in a noisy space with lots of point solutions, but no real platform. The founders are recognized across the industry as some of the best and are building out a world-class, innovative team, including many who have worked for them before. We’re confident their EngOps platform will become only more and more necessary with the remote/hybrid future of work where engineering processes are more diffuse.

Get involved

You can download the free version of Faros, Faros Community Edition, or inquire about the Professional or Enterprise editions on Faros.ai. Faros is also hiring! Join here.

Office Hours: Building Your GTM Machine

Building a go-to-market engine to fuel growth and carve a path to profitability is critical for success, but rarely a straight line. We gathered two of our stellar Operator LPs who are scaling iconic companies to share their inside track on cracking the GTM code with OpCo founders, CEOs, and GTM leaders from our portfolio. 

The Speakers: 

Heather Akuiyibo: VP Sales, Databricks.  Heather has been at the helm of Databrick’s sales since 2017.  She didn’t just navigate through the pandemic, she crushed it.  At the end of 2021, Databricks reported $800M in ARR, a NRR of 150% and over 7,000 customers, making it one of the top 10 most valuable companies.  

Olivia Nottebohm: Chief Revenue Officer / Advisor at Notion. Olivia grew Google’s Cloud Business internationally before joining Dropbox as COO, and most recently oversaw Notion’s entire marketing, sales, customer support and customer experience function, propelling the company to new heights. 

Here are the GTM gems they shared: 

Two key things to nail.

  • Hiring profiles for right now. Every single role should have a strong sense of what key skill sets are most important for this point in time. The AE  you needed two years ago is not the AE you need now, and won’t be the AE you need in two more years. Constantly ratchet up the skill sets, and tweak and fine tune the target profiles. 
  • Enable your people. Find out what makes the first, or the best, sales person tick and codify it. Just get it on paper, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Train everyone on the path to success.

Mistakes not to make.

  • Reinventing the wheel. Value propositions for the customer can be standardized based on pattern recognition: stages of customer, business problems they face.  Don’t allow too much deviation from the core fundamentals, and reel it in if it gets too far. Creative  sales scenarios often come at the opportunity cost of sales for more standard applications.
  • Not serving the customer. Obvious one, but customer success needs to happen at a particular scale whether they ask for it or not. A lot of research can be done online and self-served. But if they don’t get helped after a certain level of spend, expect dropoff. 
  • Not asking for executive sponsorship: if sellers don’t want to ask for help, by the time the executive relationship comes through it can be too late. 
  • No champion, no deal. Find out who the power users are quickly, and reach out to them. You can help change the profile of someone on the customer side by giving them things to do, things to advocate for, and making them stand out as a champion.

Just start documenting.

  • Surprise! There is no one right way to GTM. There’s no exact model that will work perfectly for your specific team and company.  And it will change as you grow.
  • Start writing down what works so people can learn from each other in the early days. Some salespeople are better at getting new logos, others are better at account management. 
  • Document who is responsible for what. How to use the tools. Explain management dashboards and why they’re important. Make it easy to search.
  • Start early with executive alignment so everyone knows when, where, and how it happens with every deal.
  • Having a playbook that evolves with you will always keep people in the loop about expectations and what good looks like. 
  • Capture videos and recordings from the best sales people. Having a library creates transparency and increases productivity. There’s nothing wrong with the beg, borrow, steal approach when it comes to best practices – and it’s important these sellers have the time to do what they do best versus onboard new people. 

Stay scrappy. 

  • Needs constantly change – internally, externally, different geos, etc. Stay flexible. 
  • Some things should work on a repeated basis, but have a tolerance for experimentation and empowerment. Never stop experimenting. 
  • Even the most sophisticated companies do things like a LinkedIn mosh on customers to find the relationships that can open doors and make the difference between a win and a loss. Relationships truly matter, even in PLG sales motions. 

Build your technical & data backbone before you think you need it. 

  • Get your systems right and invest in them early. Make sure you have your tech stack architected in a way that will scale overtime. If you’re not getting the inbound right now, a downturn can be a great time to do this properly. 
  • Data and storytelling are key components of realizing value. Decide what pieces of data matter, do the right tagging, and at the end of the day, data is where the answers lie. 
  • Get the balance of data and storytelling to drive the insight you need to prove.
  • When you don’t have enough clear data, listen to what the customer is saying and what the sales reps are saying. Keywords you hear can be a way into a story that wasn’t previously obvious.
  • Know what growth metrics matter to which teams like customer success and engineering, and think about what kind of north star internal metrics tell the true value. 

You’re probably going to be wrong 20% of the time. 

  • Don’t let perfection get in the way of good. Paralysis is the enemy of GTM success.
  • In a world where you don’t have perfect information, just make some bets. 
  • 80% of the best practices should be repeatable, 20% needs to be adapted. It’s easy to get stuck in old ways. Develop the muscle to recognize what’s repeatable, and what kinds of investments don’t have a return. Which is where culture can make a huge difference…

Keep it real, make it fun. 

  • Culture matters. There will always be deals that don’t go your way. Rather than trying to solve it yourself or run away, “embrace the suck”. From the CEO down, open and transparent communication informs teams about what’s really happening, and you can have a productive conversation about what is, and what is not, in your control to do differently. 
  • No support question is just a support question. All of the GTM functions work in concert with each other, and when something goes off the rails it shows up in other areas. It’s easy to point fingers, so always reinforce that the team is in it together. 
  • Spiffs and other incentives keep sales people engaged. Make it easy to participate, nominate each other, and celebrate as one team.
  • When there’s a big loss, talk about it. What are you going to lean into, what are you going to stop. Learning the hard way is valuable and should go into the playbook.
  • Map your successes to your values and customer needs.

 

Operator Spotlight: Chainalysis Chief Product Officer Pratima Arora

“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them – operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next. 

This month we spoke with Pratima Arora (@pratima_arora), the chief product officer responsible for the entire R&D organization, at blockchain data platform company Chainalysis, which just raised $170M at an $8.6B valuation. Pratima’s rock-star track record also includes serving as head of Confluence Cloud at Atlassian, and nine years leading product strategy for strategic initiatives like the machine and deep learning platform at Salesforce. She is a builder, always a learner, and a mom.  

After extensive experience in SaaS, you recently moved into the world of cryptocurrency. What attracted you to this opportunity and what have you learned in the process of changing markets?

PRATIMA: An ability to have an impact and my curiosity is what always drives me, and attracted me to this role. The Internet made information accessible to everyone, whether you are in Cambodia or New York. Everyone has the same information at their fingertips. I believe crypto currency will bring the same equality to the financial systems in the world and I hope to play a small role in it. My biggest learning is that everyone is a learner in the Web3 space. The technology is moving so fast that even if you joined the industry a decade ago, you need to relearn all the new waves of things. 

You’ve led several wildly successful product organizations over your career. How do the best teams maintain a product strategy focus that drives overall business impact?

PRATIMA: It all starts with the people. The best teams build the best products. Building successful products is a balance between art and science – you need the science to build, measure and learn. You need the art and right side brain to build highly usable and delightful products, but also have the intuition to make decisions without perfect data. 

What is changing in product right now that early startups should optimize for? 

PRATIMA: The best and fastest way to build products is to use hypothesis driven development, especially when you are in an early stage startup. Use an iterative approach to build fast, measure everything, and learn. Experimenting and feedback loops are extremely important. 

What’s your take on product-led growth vs sales-led? What do you need to do differently across customer support, marketing, and sales? How is it re-defining roles and responsibilities? What’s next for PLG? 

PRATIMA: I get this question a lot and I personally think it is a non-question. Everyone should follow the business model that fits their customer base. You will follow a traditional sales model (sales-led) or a product-led model depending upon your customers. Salesforce started selling CRM to the Sales teams and the sales-led model fit perfectly. It is very hard to sell into the public sector using a self-serve model. For companies like Atlassian – their customer base is developers who do not like talking to salespeople, hence the product-led model was a natural fit. You do a lot of things differently between the two models, starting from the ownership of the revenue number and which leader is responsible for it. Product leaders own a target in product-led companies vs. sales leaders. Another big difference is the percentage of company resources going towards GTM vs. R&D – it’s reversed. If product-led and sales-led are two ends of the spectrum, we are seeing one can pick up useful tactics from the other. For example, a sales-led company can benefit from a free trial model that helps them build a pipeline. 

What are the metrics early stage companies really need to nail to indicate product-market fit? 

PRATIMA: User engagement is probably the most important metric to nail for product market fit. Are the users finding value and are they coming back? Engagement can mean very different things from one product to another. For example, the engagement metric for Pinterest can be the number of pins or boards vs. for Airbnb, it could be successful trips made. 

What are the most important traits you hire for when building out a product org? 

PRATIMA: The first skill-set is communication. Product folks interact with so many different internal and external stakeholders that without concise and clear communication, it’s hard for them to succeed. Other skills are leadership, the ability to deliver outcomes, and product craft. Product craft is composed of product management frameworks that can be learned and the intuition needed to make good product judgment. 

Why do you feel cognitive diversity is so important for product teams in particular? Can you share a specific example from your experience?

PRATIMA: Diversity is essential for product teams for two reasons: 1) your customers are very diverse so it helps represent the population and build better products; and 2) diversity helps you solve problems more creatively and you often end up with better solutions. The key job of a product manager is to solve customer problems with creativity. 

Last year, you also joined the board of cloud infrastructure company DigitalOcean. What do you wish someone had told you before taking your first board position?

PRATIMA: I did quite a bit of homework before I took my board seat. I can only sit on one board due to my time limitations, so it was very important for me to pick the right one. Three key things:

  1. People: do you like the board and the CEO, is there a positive relationship where board recommendations are implemented vs. where the board is a formality?
  2. The stage: it’s extremely important to identify the stage of the company based on what you are looking for.
  3. Learning: is there a good balance of where you add value and get to learn from others as well. 

What was one of your first jobs and what’s one big lesson you learned? 

PRATIMA: I was a software engineer at Intuit and did not get my first product management job. It took courage to go ask the hiring manager about it, and I got the best feedback. It was about speaking up more about my opinions and not waiting until I was 95% sure to state my opinions. “Strong opinions loosely held” is a great value for every PM to hold. 

What’s the best advice you’ve received – or given – about how to manage people?  

PRATIMA: I love Kim Scott’s book on Radical Candor and ask almost all managers to read it. First and foremost, you need to care about your employees and team, and then you need to be honest. A good manager is always looking out for their people’s growth irrespective of whether it is within your company or outside. 

What’s your secret super power? 

PRATIMA: Grit – the superpower that gives you the ability to get back up again and keep going. Personally, I also love the “Get Back Up Again” song from the movie Trolls. I learned this the hard way and I just don’t like to quit. 

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are the keys to building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Office Hours Session Notes – Culture Scaling

It’s not the foosball table. 

Intentionally scaling culture is the secret weapon that separates truly great companies from the rest. Creating exceptional culture goes far beyond HR, and gone are the days of free snacks keeping employees happy and engaged. How values are lived – or not – has an impact across the entire company. We gathered three exceptional operators who have mastered the art, strategy, and storytelling of culture to share with our founders lessons learned – from the earliest days of company building through IPO and beyond. 

Office Hours are interactive, candid Q&A conversations and are not recorded. We capture the bottom line in a “Session Notes” format.

The Speakers:

  • Dini Mehta, Chief Revenue Officer, Lattice, has accomplished the seemingly impossible –  scaling a sales organization from 7 to 120 employees with almost no attrition while building revenue from $5M to $100M+ in less than 4 years. Was her college mascot! 
  • Tracy Williams, Chief People & Diversity Officer, New Relic, has transformed culture through a strategic partnership with the CEO. Is a sneakerhead and loves her Jordans. 
  • Nairi Tashjian Hourdajian, VP Communications, Content & Community Marketing, Figma, has been at the intersection of storytelling and culture for nearly a decade, from early days at Uber to Figma. In her next life will be a hip hop A&R exec. 

Culture means a lot of different things to lots of different people. What is culture and why does it matter? 

  • It’s the set of shared practices, norms, and how you make decisions
  • It’s why people feel engaged – it’s how you scale
  • Invest in your people and they’ll invest in you. People strategy is how you achieve business strategy. Culture eats strategy for lunch
  • If you’re not intentional, you’ll work really, really hard – or you’ll fail
  • Everyone in a company wants community, growth, and purpose 
  • Culture and values are like an OS for a company – when done well it brings and fosters efficiency. You’ll move faster

How to make values really lived? 

  • Build them into company kickoffs and all-hands 
  • Operationalize them: make them a part of the hiring process, review cycles, compensation objectives, etc. – if the operational side gets lost, values become just words on a page
  • Consistently talking about what’s important to you as a company aligns everyone on an ongoing basis 
  • Think about and balance what values mean externally, how they show up to customers and partners 
  • Values often sound like they could be for any company – make them unique and they’ll stick. Make sure people know what they mean and how they are lived 
  • Recognize and reward moments/people when the values are clearly lived – from micro-moments like praise when values are lived to peer reward systems

Culture building in a remote/hybrid world: 

  • All people managers need to be on the same page. Enable, empower, and coach
  • View culture as a product: what’s working, what’s not?
  • At first, we were all skeptical that you could have a “real” culture remotely, but it’s been a total 180. It’s about how work is part of your life and not just adding to your day-to-day
  • Create intentional moments to show who you are, and have some fun. Creative ways to connect and reward your team: company-wide week off in summer, a digital scavenger hunt, sharing a picture from your childhood – all ways to build real, human connection and have fun
  • Adopt a decision-making framework so it’s clear how new ideas can be surfaced. When you go from 150 to 600 employees in a year, it’s natural that the early folks have earned trust and new folks may not feel engaged yet. Example: SPADE really helps in an async environment
  • Create space for community conversations about what’s happening in the world – no agenda, just safe space. Exec team shows up and participates

How to balance culture and speed: hiring in hypergrowth

  • You have to build an org where you value both. It’s easy to say that you have to grow at all costs. But it’s a short term win and ultimately not the right thing for your metrics
  • Give people space to execute – sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. But it pays off – you’ll go faster in 6 months as a result
    • You have to have full alignment from the board to the exec team to the people managers – otherwise, it’s a recipe for failure
    • If you slow down in order to do things right, you’re not slowing down
  • The hiring process as you grow needs to include questions about values to see if there is alignment. One strategy: ask candidates to share stories that show how they embody a particular value
  • There’s no separate culture interview, it’s embedded into every interview
  • Intentionally focusing on hiring talent from diverse backgrounds Does. Not. Slow. You. Down. If you want diverse talent, you need to go to diverse channels for sourcing

How do you reinforce values during the onboarding process and in the first 90 days, especially when 75% of the company has been hired in recent months?

  • Find ways to constantly and creatively reaffirm your values – a welcome package with stickers, notebooks, etc. Onboarding buddy has a script to talk about them and what they mean at work. Show new people stories and examples in a sizzle reel pulled from All Hands and Off Site meetings
  • New Hire welcome meetings: the CEO should talk about the values, then people will understand how important they are to the organization from Day 1

Hiring a sales org: 

  • Sales orgs are hard – a lot of practices are based on scarcity and fear-based incentives. What’s the org you want to work for? You don’t have to do it the way others have done it 
  • You as leaders own this – when it comes to culture and values you want sales folks to be aligned to you. Don’t be afraid to call it out like you see it – do not let moments of misalignment pass. Don’t compromise. You can’t make someone mission-aligned
  • It’s common to think of sales people as mercenaries not missionaries. That’s why you see such high attrition, but don’t view sales people as quarter-driving machines
  • You have to walk the walk as a leadership team. If a deal is good for sales but not for the company, walk away

On culture add vs. culture fit:

  • Hire with intention. If you don’t want everyone to be the same and think the same, then you have to hire people who may not come from the same background or the same friend circle
  • Unconscious bias seeps in. What does a “fit” mean? Think about whether they align to your values 
  • You also can’t just throw different people together and assume everyone will get along and it’ll all work out – people need to understand context and have a safe space to talk about differences. Create space for people to disagree
  • Hire for competencies you know you’re going to need way before you need them, that’s what builds the engine 
  • The important work starts after you hire someone, so make sure people are included and feel like they belong
  • Make your intentions as a leader known – repetition is key. If you say it three times a week, it’ll stick maybe 70% of the time. Have leaders truly understand the CEO/founder’s individual, real values – it takes time
We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Operator Spotlight: Waymo co-CEO and Intuit board member Tekedra Mawakana

“How did they do that? How did they get there?” Companies succeed because of the people who build them – operating leaders who grow businesses to new heights and make decisions every day that can impact entire industries. Each month, our Operator Spotlight gives you the inside track from one of our incredible Operator LPs (Limited Partners) who are changing the game – building and scaling some of the world’s most successful companies. Read on for lessons learned and mistakes made, perspectives from the top, practical advice, and ideas on what’s next. 

This month we spoke with Tekedra Mawakana. She’s co-CEO at autonomous driving technology company Waymo (an Alphabet subsidiary), board director at Intuit, as well as an advisor to Boom Supersonic and — luckily for us — Operator Collective

Last year, you stepped into the co-CEO role at Waymo. There are lots of opinions about the role and title what is your thinking and approach? How do you make it work? 

TEKEDRA: The question about co-leadership is really fair. In many circumstances I can understand why it would be very difficult, and unfamiliar. However, my co-CEO, Dmitri Dolgov, and I have worked closely together for years now and bring very complementary skills to the table. Dmitri has been working on this engineering challenge his whole career. Thus, he focuses on the development of the Waymo Driver, and I focus on how to commercialize and deploy the tech, as well as build trust with the communities in which we operate and whom we serve. We jointly consider the best strategy and rollout, and strengthen our Waymo team and culture along the way. It’s been a great partnership and I feel very honored to lead the company of Waymonauts alongside him. 

Waymo is tackling a world-changing opportunity. It’s big and hard not the kind of thing that happens overnight! How do you think about creating a long-term roadmap for something like employee retention? How do you know when to stay the course, or when to adapt?

TEKEDRA: It’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint. We’ve been at this for over a decade now, have tested in more than 25 cities and driven more than 20 million miles on public roads. We understand deeply how challenging it is to introduce autonomous driving technology to the public and are committed to progressing safely as we continue to deploy our tech step-by-step. When it comes to our employees, it’s a really fantastic team of over 2,000 people who want to make a difference in the world and are here because they believe in the mission and the impact that this technology can have over the long-term.  

We’ve had the opportunity to bring in professionals from all over the world, with incredibly diverse expertise and points of view. They have come together to provide guidance for any number of different areas of our fully autonomous service and the technology behind it, including regarding key deployment decisions. Doing something like this that hasn’t been done before requires a lot of humility and tremendous openness around learning. And so that is how I approach things. I learn, listen, and make a decision. That learning journey is really core to how we approach things here at Waymo. 

Global policy issues can make or break tech companies. How could the next generation of tech giants benefit from bringing in operators with deep experience navigating complex legal and regulatory situations?  

TEKEDRA: One of the most interesting aspects of mission-driven tech is the broad opportunity for impact, and with expansive impact there will likely be questions about regulations. For that reason, I really hope new entrants will always consider how to apply policy, legal and regulatory expertise at the start to help protect investments, create industry norms, and ultimately deliver on the promise of the tech. 

At Waymo, we work with regulators and policymakers at every level of government to help ensure understanding of our fully autonomous driving technology. We consider Waymo to be an industry leader in this regard, in terms of transparency and engagement with governments. I’m really proud of the work of our team to advance our mission and help shape the future!

Describe a pivotal moment in your career that was truly defining for you — an opportunity that changed your life or a moment where you recognized defeat and changed course.

TEKEDRA: My decision to join Waymo was exciting to me because it was a chance to build from the ground up. I always loved being in big tech companies — I navigated them well for career success and personal enjoyment. But after a while, I really wanted to use my skills as a builder. Since joining Waymo, I have had the challenges of my career. From helping ensure our first commercial service was successfully launched to helping shape the type of company culture we want, it’s all about building with great intention, clear priorities and humility in leadership. 

What is one big lesson you’ve  learned from your career path? 

TEKEDRA: For more than two decades, I advised some of the best-known consumer technology companies working on advancing their business interests around the world.  Early in my career, I focused on transactions within the regulated technology and telecom industries, and rose up to advise CEOs navigating growth and turnaround strategies. Prior to Waymo, I led global teams at eBay, Yahoo, AOL and Startec Global Communications and I started my career at the DC-based law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP.  When I think about my career path, it’s been anything but linear. A lesson I embraced early on is that often the best move for my career has been to take a role that requires a bit of a step back in order to move forward, and that it’s actually quite common for so many of us to see our careers take that kind of trajectory. 

What’s your secret super power?

TEKEDRA: My secret power has always been my willingness to speak up. It sounds easy, but it actually can be really challenging, especially when you look around the table (or video conference as the case has been through the pandemic) and find yourself to — for example — be the only woman present. While I may need to take a deep breath in sometimes before I speak up, once I start to speak, my super power grows as I am reminded of the importance of ensuring my voice is heard.

What’s one thing you’ve done successfully, personally or professionally, to empower the next generation of underrepresented leaders? What’s one thing you want to take on next?

TEKEDRA: Through my life and career I’ve learned the importance of giving back. I realized that — at a very early and important stage in my career — people along the way took a special interest in me, even though they were not mentors and coaches. This inspired me to start something years ago I call “Givebacks.” It’s a simple thing:- I committed to connecting with three women and people of color each quarter who were looking for guidance, had a question (typically about breaking into tech), or just were looking to build their network. We meet for coffee or lunch or video call, and each time I’m reminded of the importance of accessible leaders. If I am seen as an example to another young woman, or another person of color, of what they are capable of, I’m honored. 

I’ve also been able to use my space in tech to give back through angel investing and joining a women-led fund, like Operator Collective (!!!), which is dedicated to driving more diversity among both women and people of color in venture.

We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are a key part of building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Meet 9 amazing women shaking up tech & venture

Women’s History Month serves as a great opportunity to celebrate amazing trail-blazing women. It’s also a stark reminder that there’s still a lot of work to be done to reach gender equity in our lifetime. Women stand to lose $400,000 over a 40-year career based on today’s wage gap, and the gap gets significantly wider for women of color. 

We’re thrilled to recognize some of the most successful, respected executives in the tech industry — who also happen to be women. We’re honored that the leaders below have joined us as operator limited partners (LPs) and/or portfolio company (PortCo) founders on our mission, along with so many others (it was challenging to narrow this list to single digits!). Each of these women contribute greatly to the Collective Venture Model, which is all about bringing together founders, operators, and investors from diverse backgrounds to supercharge rising companies and create mutual value. 

Together, we’re rebuilding venture from the ground up, with the world’s best operators at the forefront, including:

Bonney Pelley
New Relic Senior Vice President of Strategy & Operations

At New Relic, Bonney has held several product and business operations roles over the past 6+ years, helping the company achieve nearly 5x revenue growth post-IPO. She’s known for building high-performing teams that excel at turning strategy into execution because they are connected to company goals, driven to make an impact, and have fun along the way. 

Claire Hough
Carbon Health Chief Technology Officer

A 25-year technology industry veteran, Claire has helped several startups (including one of her own) grow and scale their teams — while committing to diversity, equity, inclusion, and servant leadership. After leading engineering teams at Netscape, Napster, Udemy, and others, she recently joined Carbon Health to help democratize healthcare through technology. Claire is an active mentor for engineering managers and product managers, and participates in the Persistence community for women leaders across tech.

Erica Ruliffson Schultz (@efr_schultz)
Confluent President of Field Operations

Erica is consistently recognized by her peers as running the most effective revenue organization and engine in enterprise software. She has a deep understanding of how to scale through all types of change, having experienced it at Confluent, New Relic, and Oracle. She creates a culture of respect, authenticity, transparency, inclusion, and accountability, and is a great advocate for women in tech. We are extremely lucky to have her on our own board of advisors, helping position Operator Collective portfolio companies for success.

Jenn Knight
AgentSync Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer

Jenn was one of the very few female developers specializing in Salesforce when she joined LinkedIn as the company’s first Salesforce engineer. She went on to lead technical teams at Dropbox and Stripe before co-founding insurtech unicorn AgentSync. There, she has focused on building a diverse team since day one (her current engineering org is majority female) because she fundamentally believes teams, products, and companies are all better when there’s a diversity of voices, thoughts, opinions, and perspectives shaping them.

Michelle Grover (@Jcmish)
Former Twilio Chief Information Officer

As Twilio’s first CIO, Michelle helped the company uplevel its technology systems and processes to drive innovation and growth — making her one of Insider’s 100 People Transforming Business. She also has a deep-seeded passion for fostering diversity and inclusion in tech leadership, and serves an advisor to Techtonica, a nonprofit that helps guide women and non-binary individuals into the technology industry. Previously, she helped grow TripIt from a 25-person startup to a key product for SAP Concur, where she became senior vice president of software development.

Meghan Noel
Amplitude Global Vice President & Head of PreSales

Meghan has led sales, presales, solution sales, marketing, product, and customer success teams at digital, SaaS, and cloud businesses for over 25 years. She drives organizations to outperform revenue expectations while maintaining focus on product strategy, customer value, and the customer experience. Prior to joining Amplitude, Meghan held a variety of leadership roles at SAP Concur over the course of her 12 years there, including senior vice president of global SMB presales and general manager of digital media solutions.

Melanie Fellay (@melfellay)
Spekit CEO & Co-Founder 

Melanie is a Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree who, along with her awesome co-founder, Zari Zahra, is changing the way companies enable employees to master their tech stacks, unlocking exponential increases in productivity. She also takes her role as one of the too-few female entrepreneurs in tech very seriously. In Melanie’s own words: “We need more women in leadership, we need more women breaking glass ceilings, we need more women starting companies and to do that, we need more young women believing that they CAN and SHOULD shoot for the moon.” That’s exactly what she herself is doing, as evidenced by Operator Collective portfolio company Spekit’s meteoric growth

Rashida Hodge (@RashidaHodge)
Microsoft Vice President of Azure Data & AI Customer Success

Rashida is a powerful advocate for women and people of color in tech and investing. She’s a big believer in authenticity and bringing personal nuance to your work, as well as in the value of strong communities and developing next-generation leaders. Rashida is a board member at Girls Inc., and founder of the Real Hope for NextGen Engineers Endowment at her alma mater, North Carolina State University — in addition to being one of Fortune Magazine’s 40 under 40 in Technology

Magdalena Yesil (@MagdalenaYesil)
Informed Executive Chair & Broadway Angels Founder

Last, but light-years from least, Magdalena is an immigrant, serial entrepreneur, board member, author, and “Alpha Girl” who’s best known as the first investor and a founding board member of Salesforce. She was an early pioneer in the commercialization of the Internet and her latest startup, Informed, is using AI to change the way the financial industry processes consumer applications. Magdalena founded Broadway Angels, a group of female venture capitalists and angel investors, and we are endlessly grateful for her continued support on Operator Collective’s investment advisory committee.

 

These values-aligned women are part of the reason we’ve been able to create a multiplier effect in our community and grow our investment network by 50% in just the last year. In fact, of the referrals we’ve received to companies with one or more female founders, almost three-quarters were made by women. It’s a testament to what happens when you intentionally expand and diversify your investor list, especially in an industry where less than 2% of enterprise software funding goes to companies with at least one female founder.

We can’t wait to see where the Collective Venture Model takes our community next.

In Operator Collective's portfolio, 48% of companies have a female founder, 38% a female CEO, 30% a female tech exec, and 20% all-female founders.
Operator Collective Portfolio Companies through 2021
We believe culture, diversity, and operational excellence are keys to building truly great companies. Learn more on our website or by connecting with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.